The sheer power of it was exhilarating! It came up through the wheels, entered the plane traveling first to his feet, moved upwards through his lower body, and into his chest. He could feel every rock, pebble, and crack in the cement as the big plane raced down the runway. He could feel the plane’s power as it vibrated through his body shaking him alive. No doubts – no fears. He pressed his foot down hard on the accelerator and big plane’s nose lifted up off the ground.
The take off was, in his opinion, as good as it gets. “That one, he thought to himself, was for Helen and the kids.” The adrenalin surge of the take-off had made him forget all about the little voice. He urged the big plane up – up over the water.
From the cockpit window spread out in front of him was the pure black of the night sky and beneath him was the icy blackness Flushing Bay. Sky and water seemed mingled together as one – echoing each other’s blackness.
Off to his right was the beautifully lit skyline of New York. He continued urging the big plane upward as he banked a slow right turn that would take him over the city and southward to Florida.
Suddenly there was a loud thud on the plane’s left side. For just a second it flashed through his mind that he’d hit something – perhaps a small plane coming in for a landing or a flock of birds. A quick check of the plane’s on-board radar showed nothing. But before he could react, the plane pitched violently to the left and the controls locked in a downward position. Instead of gaining altitude they were descending – descending back towards the water. To his horror, he was again looking at the pure black night sky instead of the twinkling lights of New York’s skyscrapers. The thud had knocked them back over Flushing Bay.
He screamed at his First Officer, “Bob, grab the nose-wheel tiller and help me.” The two of them struggled desperately to pull the plane out of its downward plunge. Through the cockpit door they could hear the passengers screaming. Captain Wilson knew he had only seconds before they hit. Automatically, without even thinking about, he reached up and made sure his Transponder was working. Mentally he could see the plane’s flight information on the controller’s screen go from white to red. It crossed his mind that Helen was going to be upset because the crash would have them arriving late and they’d miss their dinner reservation. Such a funny thing to think about at a time like this, he thought, while reaching for his radio.
“Tower, this is Nations Air 625, HEAVY, with one hundred sixty souls on board. We are experiencing difficulty.”
The tower radioed back, “Flight 625 this is LaGuardia Tower. Say again.
“We are experiencing difficulty”
“Flight 625 what is your difficulty?”
“Tower we are having difficulty maintaining altitude.”
“Captain, are you in control of the airplane?”
It took all of his self-control not to panic. He wanted to scream but knew the cockpit voice recorder was taping every sound made and every word he said.
He’d been present at the playback of other crash recordings. He’d heard grown men crying like babies and pleading for their lives, while other remained calm and gave details on what was happening with the plane and then said their good-byes or apologies. To the pilots who listened to these tapes, the calm ones were their heroes and everyone wanted to go out like them. They were the respected ones – the men of honor. Everyone, without fail felt shame for the pleaders and vowed never to be one.
He’d played out his own disaster scenario a thousand times in his mind, and in all of them he’d played the hero. However, none of those disasters, he reminded himself, involved having his family on board.
His last words heard on the tape were, “May God forgive me for not listening.”